Who’s in, who’s out for MWC21 in Barcelona?

Barcelona
In normal times, Barcelona would host on the order of 100,000 people attending Mobile World Congress. (Pixabay)

Verizon appears to be (mostly? kind of?) all-in, but T-Mobile and AT&T are either not talking (T-Mobile) about their plans for Mobile World Congress 2021 in Barcelona this summer or still monitoring (AT&T) the situation.

The GSMA, which hosts the event, thanked Verizon, the biggest U.S. carrier by subscriber count, over Twitter for “continuing to support us in our efforts to deliver a safe & successful” MWC21.

A spokesperson for T-Mobile, the No. 2 carrier by subscribers in the U.S., said there’s nothing to share at this point about its MWC21 plans.

AT&T, the No. 3 player in the U.S. market, isn’t making a commitment either way. “We have not made a decision on our level of participation at this point and we are closely monitoring the event to protect the safety of our employees,” AT&T said in a statement. “GSMA plays a key role in driving standards and mobile interoperability and we will continue to support it, regardless of our attendance in Barcelona.”

Verizon didn’t respond to questions from Fierce about the size of its MWC21 presence or plans for sponsoring a booth. Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg is on the schedule to deliver a keynote. Other keynoters include Qualcomm President and CEO-elect Cristiano Amon, Nokia President and CEO Pekka Lundmark, Reliance Jio CEO Mathew Oommen and China Mobile Chairman Yang Jie, among others. 

Ericsson, which has hosted a gigantic booth in Hall 2 of Fira Gran in recent years, said earlier this month that it’s not going to participate in MWC21 because of the continuing impacts from Covid-19. Soon after, consultant Danielle Royston purchased the entire 65,000 square feet of floor space that Ericsson vacated, which is about the size of one and a half American football fields. Her vision for the space is to invite all the big public cloud providers and smaller cloud vendors to create a “cloud city,” she told Fierce.

RELATED: Consultant buys Ericsson’s MWC floorspace to host ‘cloud city’

Nokia also said it has decided not to have a physical presence at MWC21 in Barcelona. “The health of our employees, customers and partners is of paramount importance to us. Given the international nature of the event and with the global vaccine roll out still in its early phases, we have made the considered decision to instead participate in only the virtual event,” the Finnish vendor said in a statement. “We understand that GSMA is planning a range of online activities and we look forward to working with them to understand how we can participate.”

California-based Cisco is another big vendor that has decided not to go. “We have made the decision to withdraw from participating in-person at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona due to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are extremely disappointed that we cannot participate in-person with this event as planned, we believe this is the right decision given the current circumstances,” according to a Cisco spokesperson.

Among overseas operators, BT has said it will not be participating in person this year. “After careful consideration, BT has decided that we will play an active role in the virtual elements of GSMA Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2021, but will not send delegates to the event in person this year,” BT said in an emailed statement.

Ericsson wasn’t the first to pull out of last year’s event, but seemed to set off a domino effect as other companies, including Nokia, followed suit. The GSMA ultimately cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 just weeks before it was scheduled to start. The 2020 event was supposed to run from February 24 through February 27.

Multi-layered safety approach

This year, GSMA pushed the dates for the show to later in the year, to June 28-July 1, and it’s promising a multi-layered safety approach approved by Catalan Health authorities, as well as a bigger digital strategy.

According to a FAQ section on GSMA’s website, in-person access to the event venue will be allowed only with negative rapid test results. Rapid tests will be available at MWC testing centers, with details to be announced. Everyone must wear a specific type of mask satisfying European standards; cloth masks will not be sufficient, even if two masks are worn at the same time.

RELATED: MWC 2021 in Barcelona at mercy of Spain's Covid situation

U.S. citizens currently can’t enter Spain unless they meet very specific requirements or have already obtained special permission from the government of Spain. The GSMA says it’s closely working with the government on current travel restrictions and visa requirements for essential business travel such as for MWC Barcelona. Visa requirements are in flux and the GSMA is encouraging everyone traveling for the show to remain up-to-date on travel restrictions issued by their country of residence.

The GSMA at one point said it was planning for about 50,000 people to attend, or about half of what a normal year would bring. Typically, the Barcelona event would attract attendees from over 200 countries.